New Castle County Council has passed legislation limiting the height of a controversial Minquadale-area landfill.
The legislation, approved with no dissenting votes Tuesday, limits the height of all landfills in the county to 140 feet above sea level.
“The legislation is proactive because we’re not just monitoring this particular landfill,” said Councilman Penrose Hollins. “Any landfill that may come in the future, we would have this height already set.”
But the only landfill currently within New Castle County jurisdiction is Waste Management’s controversial Delaware Recyclable Products, Inc. (DRPI) landfill in New Castle — which has a permit application pending before the state to expand from a maximum height of 130 feet above sea level to 190 feet.
Elected officials, advocates and some residents have opposed the expansion. They’ve painted the residential-area landfill as a threat to health and quality of life, as well as an environmental justice issue.
Councilman Jea Street Sr., who co-sponsored the ordinance and represents the area where the landfill is located, said the issue comes down to poor zoning, which places residents too close to heavy industrial activity.
“This government broke it and this government needs to fix it,” he said.
At the packed County Council meeting Tuesday, Wilmington resident Willie Scott urged council to act.“I have little confidence that DNREC will do its job to protect the citizens of Delaware. So this council is our last line of defense.”
Scott described the landfill as a health risk.
“Emissions? Well there’s dust, airborne pollution, smog, noise and trucks— and the other little issue with the aquifer that we can’t seem to come to grips with,” he said. “Call it what you want – environmental justice, environmental injustice, environmental racism—this is what it looks like.”
Shirley LeMon has lived directly adjacent to the DRPI landfill for fifteen years, since she and her husband built their home on East Fern Drive. She says trucks drive past starting early in the morning. But her biggest complaint is the air— and the effect she says it has on her health.
"We have smelled the egg smell,” she told Delaware Public Media in June. “It has burned our eyes, throat. Now I'm at the point that my asthma, I've been in the hospital like four or five times. ... I didn't have asthma 'til I started living here."
Artesian Water Company has also raised concerns about the landfill’s potential impact on groundwater, which the landfill has contested.
The landfill sits above the Potomac aquifer, which Artesian Water Company representatives say provides water for tens of thousands of people.
Waste Management officials and contractors testified Tuesday about the landfill’s liner system, leachate collection system, and the underlying clay soil formation and hydrogeology.
Jeff Shanks, an environmental compliance specialist at Waste Management, said 25 years of monitoring data show no evidence of groundwater degradation as a result of the landfill. He said the landfill is hydrologically isolated from the upper Potomac aquifer. Artesian’s consultants question this.
Andrew Sokol of Waste Management says tests show groundwater under the site flows north, away from Artesian’s wellfields.
Representatives from Artesian have painted a different picture “The Potomac aquifer [below the landfill] is like a super highway to our 24 public supply wells,” said Karl Randall, general counsel of Artesian Water Company, at a DNREC hearing in May.
Waste Management plans to challenge the new ordinance. Company officials have said it “unlawfully targets” a single business.
“The idea that it impacts a future landfill is sheer speculation,” said Waste Management spokesman John Hambrose. “The only landfill it impacts is the DRPI landfill on Route 13 in New Castle.”
Hambrose says if the landfill is able to gain approval to expand up to 140 feet, it could likely continue to operate for just another year or two before it fills up.
In a letter sent to members of County Council last week, Waste Management officials said under the new ordinance the company will curtail operations at the site and eliminate 14 positions.
They say if the DRPI landfill closes, it could force other companies in the area out of business and would invalidate a community benefits agreement with the Minquadale Civic Association — ultimately taking “millions of dollars a year” out of the local economy.
Joe Matteo, president of New Castle-based tire recycler Magnus Environmental Corporation, said at Tuesday’s County Council meeting that if the DRPI landfill were to close, his company might be not far behind.
But New Castle County officials say they are prepared to defend the legislation, which County Executive Matt Meyer signed at a ceremony near the landfill Wednesday morning, hours after it passed late Tuesday night.
Meyer says his administration has asked Waste Management “as good corporate citizens” not to sue over the legislation. “But if they choose to go that route, we will fight without stop, relentlessly, for the people of this county and for the land, the water and the air of this county," he said.
“There are a lot of things you do that people don’t like,” Meyer added. “Quite frankly if you’re here doing something that there’s a lot of evidence adds to water pollution, you’re saying we don't have the right to regulate that in our county land use process? That’s a frivolous and ridiculous argument.”